Lively Bangkok street food finds a home in One Loudoun.
“I love this story,” says Jeremy Ross, who only answers to his last name, like all the men in his family.
In preparation for Porntipa “Pat” Pattanamekar’s forthcoming restaurant, Sense of Thai St., she set off to Thailand with just a backpack. She came home to Virginia with five suitcases filled with her mom’s pork tamarind paste, frozen—and a chef.
Ross laughs. “Five suitcases.”
That paste (which is replenished when cooks and servers go back and forth to Asia) brings savoriness to the overwhelmingly fiery Street Fried Rice. It also counts sweet sausage, green beans, bell peppers and a salty egg—a duck egg that’s been salt cured for about two weeks, helping diffuse the heat—amongst its ingredients.
It’s one of the many dishes pulled from carts along Charoen Krung Road in Bangkok. Each cart specializes in a specific dish, and chefs were plucked straight from Thailand and Laos to bring one specialty that each man or woman knew so well and cook it within One Loudoun.
“The menu is all about personal stuff,” says Ross, the restaurants’ general manager and beverage director. Another example: the completely inauthentic but utterly delicious Thai-Mex quesadilla. Co-owner Parasak “Sing” Chokesatean’s mom loved Uncle Julio’s when she first moved to the country, so he wanted to dedicate a dish to her, stuffing chicken coated in a spicy green curry between slices of roti and slapping it on the grill for a few char marks. But then the menu swings back around to the simple act of spearing grilled heart and liver on a skewer. The pieces are mostly unadorned, bringing a smack of that singular, unmistakable organ flavor.
The menu is part-recognizable Thai, part-fun, part-authentic all within a beautiful space where most of the wood, the granite bar and the artwork is imported from Thailand including the host stand, which is a retired Bangkok food cart.
Not everything works, like overcooked duck bending too sweet when served inside a hollowed-out pineapple, but the excellent drinks can help.
Ross honed his mixing skills under D.C.’s Knightsbridge Restaurant Group, whose proprietor, Ashok Bajaj, is a 2016 Outstanding Restaurateur semifinalist from the James Beard Awards. Star anise, kaffir lime, cinnamon sticks, Thai basil and cloves (and much more) sit on top of the marble bar as exotic garnishes, where each leaf or aromatic could be used in a guessing game.
About 90 percent of the drinks ordered are dealer’s choice: Tell the bartender what you like (and don’t) and he or she will make it work. And it worked for me: a distaste for sweet, grapefruit and gin and a love of Manhattans plus an intense curiosity about getting those garnishes into my glass turned into a vanilla-scented, Aperol-tinged Manhattan decorated with star anise.
It was pretty perfect and somehow found a way to pair with the rest of my meal: a grilled yellowtail jaw, aggressively charred and tenderly juicy; a spicy, pungent salad of minced chicken with red onion, cilantro and lime; and a showstopper of a noodle dish. Crispy noodles combine with soft egg noodles for a dish that is vibrant with tang and spice and what I can only imagine is the chaotic allure of eating on the city streets of Bangkok.
Sense of Thai St.
20413 Exchange St., Ashburn;
Open for lunch and dinner daily
( April 2016 )